Why we need ‘crazy’ ideas for new city parks



Sea Line Park, one of the shortlisted entries in the competition to design a new park for the Melbourne of 2050.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

Wendy Walls, University of Melbourne

Two seemingly unrelated but important things happened in Melbourne last week. One was a memorial service for David Yencken AO; the other was the exhibition opening of the Future Park Design Ideas Competition. The connection between the two is that both gave us radical ideas for Melbourne’s open space.

David Yencken was a visionary man who had a profound impact on Victoria and Melbourne. He was responsible, among many things, for the transformation of Southbank and co-founding Merchant Builders. But one of his wildest ideas was the 1985 Greening of Swanston Street, when vehicle traffic was closed and a weekend street party was held right in the middle of Melbourne.




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As the secretary (chief executive) of the Ministry for Planning and Environment, Yencken had been charged with changing perceptions of the city by rethinking its public spaces. At a time before pop-up parks and guerrilla gardening, his radical idea demonstrated what was possible for the inner city and sowed the seed of the idea of closing Swanston Street to traffic.

The project was not without controversy – it was costly and came in for political criticism as a stunt. But looking back to a time when inner Melbourne was underutilised and dominated by traffic, we can see how that radical idea sparked the imagination about what was possible for the city centre.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



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Future Park fires imaginations and debate

This is just what the Future Park competition needs to achieve. The open competition held by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has attracted global interest, with 123 entries from 20 countries.

The brief was simple but provocative. Designers were to find space within 10 kilometres of the city centre and design a future park that responds to the challenges of Melbourne today. The design responses from the 31 shortlisted entries ranged from manufactured lagoons to urban wildlife corridors and street transformation parks that Yencken would be proud of.

Melbourne from Past to Last, a vision of a city street park.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

The first wave of media coverage on the competition inspired a range of public comments about Melbourne’s open space. For example, from the online comments in The Age:

Royal Park is a massive area of underutilised space. Driving down Elliott Av it’s just an open wasteland. Grassland and scattered gum trees does not make a welcoming “park”.

How about bulldozing the eyesore known as Federation Square and putting a park in its place?

These designs forget to include the things that make it a Melbourne park, graffiti, vandalism, weeds and the homeless.

Architects and landscapers rarely, if ever, have a grasp on what will work for people … they are too busy trying to be creative, and not busy enough trying to make people happy.

What the public comments show us is that there is no single or obvious solution to our parks and public spaces. Some people like it busy, some people like the quiet. Some want European trees and others desire native plantings. It’s complicated, and each of these opinions make valid points.

Just like Yencken’s Greening of Swanston, there will always be debate about what makes good public space. And that is exactly why we need more radical ideas – some might call them “crazy” – for our cities.

We know the future of our cities will be complicated. Like it or not, there will be more people, a changing climate and increasing pressure on infrastructure and services.




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Wicked problems call for radical thinking

These messy issues are often described as wicked problems. Popular in public policy and management, the term is used to explain problems with debatable cause and effect. Critically, the lack of agreement about wicked problems produces conflicting goals towards resolution.

Obviously, we need science, governance and planning, but finding solutions to wicked problems will also require creativity and collaboration. We need debate and we need ideas that can expand our imagination about what our cities can be. This is why it is so important that the competition entries for the Future Park explore new and outrageous possibilities.

Ideas throughout the shortlisted entries include plans for a new NBN: the National Biodiversity Network, which creates ecological corridors across the country. Others propose transforming schools into parkland; parks designed for bees; designs that return darkness to our urban landscapes; and sculpting new islands as rising sea levels engulf our coastline.

Multi-deck parks: as cities grow and space becomes ever more precious, urban parks replace car parks.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

As design solutions, these ideas reflect the challenges of our world today. While many of these schemes are technically, socially or economically unfeasible, they remind us of the power of thinking outside of the box. Importantly, the competition format puts all of these ideas together in one place for us to think about and discuss.

In Australia, we have a limited culture of “open design competitions” for either built projects or speculative solutions. But design competitions provide opportunities for new voices and discovering unexpected solutions within these wild ideas.

Radical ideas are important and so is having the freedom to voice them. Especially as a way of expanding the discussions we need to have about the challenging future.




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The Future Park competition winners will be announced on Friday, October 11, at the 2019 International Festival of Landscape Architecture in Melbourne. The Future Park exhibition is at Dulux Gallery, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, from October 4 to November 1.The Conversation

Wendy Walls, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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VIETNAM: ATTACK ON CATHOLIC CHAPEL SHOWS AUTHORITIES’ FEAR OF RELIGION


On same day, Mennonite denomination receives legal recognition; pastors wary.

LOS ANGELES, November 20 (Compass Direct News) – At a chapel on the remaining patch of Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi that the Vietnamese government had yet to confiscate, at 10 p.m. on Saturday night (Nov. 15) an official came to summon the priests to an “urgent meeting.” According to Vietcatholic.net website and other church sources, it proved to be a ruse to draw them away from the property while government-inspired gangs attacked St. Gerardo Chapel.

As the gangs ravaged the chapel, Father Joseph Dinh told Independent Catholic News, some people at the church began ringing the church bells to signal for help while others sent urgent e-mail and text messages asking Catholics to defend it.

Hundreds of police with stun guns tried to keep the arriving faithful from entering the chapel to stop the destruction. The hundreds of Catholics who arrived eventually overwhelmed officers, going past police to scare off the attackers. Witnesses reportedly said that government, police and security officials had stood by doing nothing to protect the chapel.

They also said that fleeing gang members shouted obscenities threatening to kill the priests and the faithful, as well as the archbishop.

“It is significant that the government attack against the monastery came on the eve of the celebration of the Feast of Vietnamese Martyrs,” a local priest told Vietcatholic.net. “This attack reminds people that since the outset, the seed of faith in Vietnam’s soil was mixed with the abundant blood of Catholic martyrs from all walks of life – from courageous missionaries to local clergy and the Christian faithful.”

The priest concluded by decrying the deterioration of conditions for Vietnamese Catholics.

A government spokesman later denied that the Vietnamese forces or authorities were involved in the attack.

As the government had achieved its objective of taking over the contested land, the well-coordinated attack came as a surprise to many. In September, Vietnam had resorted to force to answer months of growing but peaceful prayer vigils over long-confiscated Catholic properties in Hanoi, reneging on a promise to negotiate a settlement. Unilaterally, the government quickly turned the papal nunciature and the rest of the Thai Ha Redemptorist property into public parks.

The solidarity demonstrated by Catholics throughout the country appeared to have alarmed authorities. They reverted to classic attacks of disinformation and slander against Catholic leaders, and even after they had halted the prayer vigils, taken the contested land and allowed previous gangs to ransack the Redemptorist chapel, authorities demanded the removal of the archbishop of Hanoi, Ngo Quang Kiet, whom they accused of inciting riots against the state.

A Protestant pastor in Hanoi said the government’s recent conflict with Catholics has had a ripple affect on other churches and religions.

“Though it is the Catholics who are being most lambasted in the state media, Protestants are also maligned along with Catholics by government propaganda,” he said. “Secondly, all religious leaders are again subject to closer surveillance.”

 

Mennonite Church Recognized

Ironically, only a few hours earlier on the same day the chapel was attacked, the Vietnam Mennonite Church was allowed to hold its organizing general assembly in Ho Chi Minh City, becoming the fifth smaller church body to receive full legal recognition in 2008.

While registration can mark an improvement in the way the government treats a church, it is not to be confused with full religious freedom, church leaders said, as it is sometimes used as a means of control. The dubious benefits of registration have led many Protestant groups to simply quit seeking it.

Other Protestant groups to receive legal recognition in 2008 were the Grace Baptist Church, the Vietnam Presbyterian Church, the Vietnam Baptist Church, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. This brought the total number of fully recognized Protestant denominations to eight. Two of the eight bodies, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) and the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North), received legal recognition before the new religion legislation initiated in late 2004.

None of the 24 house church organizations of the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF), however, has received even the lower-level “national registration to carry out religious activity.” Only one in seven of its congregations even have permission to operate locally.

Of the total 2,148 VEF congregations, 1,498 have applied for local permission to carry out religious activity, but only 334 have received it. Another house church organization has had 80 congregations apply for local permission to operate and has received only refusals or no answer at all. Other groups report a similar experience.

A hint of the government’s attitude toward registered churches, pastors said, was evident in its official news release on the Vietnam Mennonite Church general assembly. The Vietnam News Agency release of Nov. 15 enjoining the church to “serve both God and the nation” and to “unite with other people in the course of national reconstruction” struck some church leaders as an expectation that their congregations will serve political ends.

Christian leaders detected government fear of churches’ international connections in the official claim that, “For more than three decades, the Vietnam Mennonite Church has operated independently from foreign Mennonite churches.”

As is customary, the ceremony included an address by a representative of the Bureau of Religious Affairs. Nguyen Thanh Xuan said he expects the Mennonite Church “to bring into full play good characteristics of Protestantism, uphold the tradition of charity, and join hands with other religious and non-religious people to build a country of stability and prosperity.”

The heavy-handed treatment of Catholics over the disputed property and the offering of legal registration to more Protestant groups does not present the contrast it may first appear, said one long-time observer.

“Catholics outnumber Protestants about five to one and are a much more formidable and unified organization than Vietnam’s fractured Protestants,” he said. “Alarmed at the largest countrywide Catholic solidarity ever demonstrated, nonplussed security authorities ordered a classic, harsh crackdown and incited ‘punishment’ disguised as citizens’ outrage.”

Protestants, he said, are less numerous, more divided and rarely capable of joint action, so they do not pose a serious threat.

“For example, the oft-repeated requests and ultimatums by the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) on their 265 confiscated properties are simply ignored,” he said. “And don’t forget that the majority of Protestants are ethnic minorities in remote areas who remain closely watched by the government.”  

Report from Compass Direct News